Monday, 18 March 2013

Them Without Sin

















The Blether Region attended two Saint Patrick's Day events in Belfast yesterday, the parade itself, and an Irish-language service at Saint George's in High Street.

The News Letter, which in recent years seems to have specialised in angry headlines of the Daily Mail type (minus the ubiquitous "now"), has a report of "drunken and sectarian behaviour" that relies heavily on the uncorroborated evidence of a single shopper.

Although the story in question might not give a particularly rounded picture of what was a long day (the shops didn't open until the parade was over, after all), there is unfortunately little doubt that it represents the true experience of the person interviewed. Remaining in lock-step with that part of the parade in which Junior was participating, the Blether Region for a time found itself keeping company with a group of young people draped in tricolours, drinking from beer cans and shouting "Fuck the PSNI". Whether that behaviour meets the dictionary definition of "sectarian" is open to debate, but readers will, one hopes, agree that it was boorish, juvenile and offensive — not to mention cowardly, taking advantage as it did of the cover of a crowd in which few would have been up for cross-community fisticuffs.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about the incident was the fact that the offenders were noticeably middle-class, probably students of some kind, proof that — flag protests notwithstanding — it is not only on the Unionist side that the educated will stir things up and then scarper, leaving the barely literate as riot fodder.

Admittedly, this only slightly and temporarily marred the parade — much better and more colourful than in previous years, and with great effort made on the organisers' part to attract Protestants. It was also particularly notable for the large numbers of ethnic-minority people marching and watching.

The service in the second half of the day could not have been more different. A mixed audience attended a religious, linguistic and musical celebration held in that beguiling marriage of opulence and austerity that is Saint George's, with the Catholics in the congregation taking communion and partipating in the familiar High Anglican liturgy alongside their fellow Christians from across the divide.

The more historically minded may criticise the Church of Ireland as the Rackrent class at prayer, a colonial imposition of tithes and souperism. Even in the present day, like all the main Protestant churches, it has many members in the Orange Order, an organisation at bizarre loggerheads with the New Testament's message of tolerance.

On this occasion, however, it did better than a vocal minority at the parade.

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